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'WE WERE PENNILESS. THEN WE TURNED OUR XMAS TRADITION INTO A MULTI.MILLION POUND EMPIRE' When Chanda Bell suggested she and her mum Carol write a kids' book, they had no idea how huge it would become.

When I say we didn't have two pennies to rub together, that would be generous. We were broke. The family business, a small steel fabrication company, wasn't doing well, and it was having a knock-on effect on us all.

'It crazy so much but I was thing A couple of days a week, I'd leave my husband at home and drive the two-hour trip to my parents' house in Atlanta, Georgia, to help my dad with the business. That way, I could take my three-year-old son Taylor to work with me, and stay the night with them to spend some time with my mum.

She was living in a perfect storm of problems at that time: worried about money and the family business, and also recovering from health problems. I could tell she was a little depressed, and I was keen to find something that we could do together, mum and daughter - something to bring us closer.

One night as I cast about for an idea to cheer Mum up, I caught sight of our family elf sitting high on a shelf. Christmas had always been a big deal in our house, and Mum went the extra mile to make sure it was special for us. Fisbee the elf sat on the shelf, keeping watch over me and my siblings, and each night Mum told us Fisbee the just knew it the right to do' hP we th he'd fly back to the North Pole and tell Santa whether we'd been naughty or nice. In the morning, he'd return but he'd always land in a different spot in the house. Running around the house trying to find Fisbee was honestly the most exciting part of the holidays.

'Mum, we should write a children's book about Fisbee together,' I told her, and she loved the idea. Neither of us had ever done anything like it before - she'd worked in advertising before becoming a home-maker, and I'd been an English teacher at a middle school. At first it was just a fun way spend an evening together.

GETTING CREATIVE

One night a week for about six months, I'd rush home from working with Dad, put Taylor down to sleep, and Mum and I would sit together at elf the kitchen table or curled up on the couch. It was a lot of fun toying with rhyme and rhythm pattern, exploring the best way to get our family tradition down on paper.

Once we'd finished, we both realised we were onto something pretty special that we wanted to share with the world. But we were clueless about what to do next, so we bought a book about how to get published, wrote a proposal and sent a few manuscripts out. A day and a half later, we got a call from an agent who said she loved 'Elf On The Shelf' and wanted to take us on. We were ecstatic, and really thought we'd made it. But unfortunately - or fortunately, looking back - it wasn't to be. The agent took our story to just about every publisher, big and small, over seven months and nobody wanted to publish it.

Mum and I felt a little dejected, but we still felt so sure we needed to carry on, so much so, we decided to go down the self-publishing route. In retrospect, it was crazy gambling so much on an elf, but I just knew it was the right thing to do.

We had no money, and we didn't even know anyone with money. would lend to us - all we had elves from Santa Claus for I said to my husband, 'The do have is good credit and to have to be enough.' No banks ad were some collateral. But one thing we that's going cards o set '

We maxed out our creditand my parents tapped into their retirement savings to up our own publishing business. My twin sister Christa was involved by this point too, and she sold her house in Pennsylvania and moved Hollywood star Garner is a fan, raised profile back home with my parents so she could put the proceeds into the business. It was a huge leap of faith for our whole family - there was no way, on our meagre salaries, we could pay back the debts we racked up to produce our first 5,000 copies.

Harper and Slowly but surely, the Elf On The Shelf boxset, which contained the book and a small elf, began to sell, mainly at school fairs and gift shows. For three years, none of us took a salary. We were working so hard to make something of it, selling books out of the back of our car and telling anyone who was listening to us about the Christmas tradition we grew up with.

STAR POWER

Then, one day, completely out of the blue, my sister called me up with news that would change all of our lives. Hollywood star Jennifer Garner had been photographed walking down the streets of New York with a copy of Elf On The Shelf in her hand. Honestly, it couldn't have worked out any better if we'd tried - even the way she was holding it seemed to show the cover perfectly to the paparazzi. I have no idea where she got a copy, and I've never had the chance to thank her, but if I ever meet her, believe me, I will.

The phones rang off the hook and we had a sudden surge in traffic to our site, as people wanted to know all about the book. Overnight, we went from a small family business to a phenomenon.

Fol Jennifer and their Fourteen years later, Elf On The Shelf has sold 12 million copies in the USA, UK, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand and Mexico. We've written spin-off books, made a film, and this Christmas we release a second movie, Elf Pets: Santa's St Bernard's Save Christmas.

Beckham her elf I still pinch myself when I think about how our family tradition's become a worldwide tradition, and I always smile when I see pictures of the complicated set-ups parents have put their elves in. It's so nice that we've spread so much magic around the world.

Lott Putting all of our money and energy into the book was a risk, but it paid off. When my brother-in-law found out we were writing a story about an elf, he said, 'Well, that's the silliest thing I've ever heard'. So now every time we do something big like having a Fisbee balloon in the Macy's parade, we laugh and say, 'Well, that's the silliest thing I've ever heard'.

Life has changed a lot, but it's also stayed the same. I still drive my minivan from 2012, but the big difference has been gaining confidence and understanding what I'm good at. We employ 83 people at an office with Santa Claus on the answering phone and Christmas trees that are up year round. Of course, the extra money is nice, although we plough a lot back into the business.

Taylor and my daughter Kendyl, now 17 and 12, love being part of the Elf On The Shelf family. Whenever any of their new friends find out what we do, there's a new thrill of excitement.

Looking back, I believe that nothing happened by chance - there was a reason Mum was in a bad place and there was a reason I was able to work for my dad and be there for her. You have to have faith these bad times are meant to be, and trust your instincts about what you're supposed to be doing with your life. Lots of people have good ideas, but if you don't act on them, they'll never be more than ideas.

WHTH what's elf on the shelf? It's a 2005 picture book about toy elves that report back to Santa about who's been naughty or nice.

he'd Pole we'd In the but he'd spot in the house. hP we th 'It was crazy gambling so much on an elf, but I just knew it was the right thing to do' and 'It was us all. and my and spend

CAPTION(S):

Kourtney Kardashian's elves Harper Beckham and her elf Pixie Lott

Hollywood star Jennifer Garner is a fan, and raised their profile

Christa, mum Carol and Chanda
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Dec 9, 2018
Words:1391
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